SLAPPs Against Consumers
Sued for Speaking Out about Consumer Health and Safety!
- In 2007, Avvo, Inc., an attorney-rating website, was sued by some attorneys who opposed Avvo’s numerical rating system (or more specifically, the number Avvo had awarded them). Avvo argued that the rating system was non-actionable fact, and the court agreed. Browne v. Avvo, Inc., Case No. C07-0920RSL (W.D. Wa. Dec. 2007). Avvo’s site also allows consumers to post comments. Although federal law protects Avvo from liability for the statements posted by others, Avvo reports that attorneys frequently go after clients who post run-of-the-mill, negative reviews. These threats often result in reviews being retracted or “corrected.”
- In 2004, Sharper Image sued Consumers Union for its poor review of a Sharper Image air cleaning system in Consumer Reports. CU successfully invoked the California anti-SLAPP law to dismiss the case. In dismissing the Sharper Image lawsuit, the court concluded that Sharper Image “ha[d] not shown that the test protocol used by Consumers Union was scientifically, or otherwise, invalid,” and had not “demonstrated a reasonable probability that any of the challenged statements were false.” The dismissal entitled CU to reimbursement for legal fees and costs, for which it collected $525,000 early in 2005. Sharper Image Corp. v. Consumers Union, 2004 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 23204.
- In perhaps the most well-known SLAPP, Oprah Winfrey was sued in 1996 by Texas cattle ranchers after a show called “Dangerous Food,” in which she invited experts on mad cow disease, and said she wouldn’t eat another hamburger. The ranchers alleged more than $12 million in damages. Texas does not have an anti-SLAPP law, so Winfrey fought the SLAPP in trial for six weeks before a jury found in her favor. On appeal in 2000, the U.S. Fifth Circuit affirmed the ruling. Texas Beef Group v. Winfrey, 201 F.3d 680 (2000).
- In another famous SLAPP, in 1989, 60 Minutes broadcast a story about the harmful effects of a chemical called alar, used in apple growing. Apple farmers in Washington state sued 60 Minutes and its parent companies, alleging more than $100 million in damages. The suit was dismissed on summary judgment, which the U.S. Ninth Circuit upheld on appeal in 1994, because the apple growers could not show that the statements made by 60 Minutes were false. Auvil v. CBS “60 Minutes,” 67 F.3d 816 (1994).